Zoobird

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Brazzaville, Republic of Congo


I've blogged a lot about this place and why I am here, so I'll
summarize (read www.facebook.com/mikelevin
http://jroller.com/Sandymountster 
http://www.codetown.us/ and
http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/botd-bike-of-the-day-bilenky/
(maybe a bit off topic ;-), but follow link to
http://www.elephantjournal.com/author/mikelevin to see other off topic
fun stuff... and look for a {BotD} Bike of the Day from Brazzaville
very soon! They are amazing and used for every imaginable purpose

I
am here because I gave a keynote for the JCertif conference.
http://jcertif.drupalcafe.com/node/1 It was featured on national TV (I
hope to get a copy) and my talk and the others were also covered by
national and local news.



I can tell you because I talked a lot about Craigslist in my
presentation that the Congolese would love to have a Craigslist slot
here. It is important to note that even though many people ask why
Craigslist is all text, that it's smart because in many places the
internet connection is very slow, so text loads much faster, especially
on mobile browsers. 

We spent an evening at the national TV
station being interviewed. I took lots of photos, but will post later.
The internet connection here ranges from .04 to about .5 MBPS, and
Skype works remarkably well. Much better than in many places I've
been. 
 
We've met with ministers of technology and information
at the very friendly Alliance Francais, eaten local fish, delicious
cassava called saka-saka
http://www.congocookbook.com/vegetable_and_side_dish_recipes/saka_s...
, and lots of cooked bananas, the rice is delicious, the spicy relish
is to die for, a steak I was treated in the House of Congress employee
cafeteria was amazing, drunk N'Gok (good beer) and another beer not
worth mentioning.

I'm told that a Congolese web portal is
planned, so there's an opportunity for enterprising programmers to
contribute. Though, from what I have learned from talking to and
questions from local developers, there is no shortage here of high tech
talent, only a shortage of work.


Age structure:

0-14 years: 45.9% (male 927,599/female 915,540)



15-64 years: 51.2% (male 1,021,975/female 1,034,119)



65 years and over: 2.8% (male 46,687/female 66,889) (2010 est.)







It's a bit hard because my Congolese is only slightly better than
my French which is more popular than Congolese, and what I've learned
makes people constantly ask me if I'm from Pointe Noir! Word of the Day
{WotD} ::: Keetoko (key-TOE-koh) means the ever popular "Niiiiiice!",
sure to bring a smile! There are two indigenous languages here: Ningali
and Kituba, which the guard I interviewed upon arrival was obviously
using and must have been from Pt. Noir, because everything I know is
Kituba. I am determined more than ever now to learn French. Especially
also because of my connections in W Africa. In fact, to say thank you
in Kituba is "matondo mingi" and my response has often been "matondo
merci'"!

There are people at the JCertif conference from Nairobi, Togo, and all over. I don't have a count, but it's very well attended.

I
can in fact wander around but it's a large city and I've been taxi-ing
with friends because I am afraid of the remnants (and ongoing) war. So
far, my fears have proven totally unfounded, but I remain vigilant, "to
be sure to be sure". The conference ends tomorrow and I'll be here
until Wed, so my wonderful hosts Max and Abena promise I'll get to see
some sights after the conference, and go to their home, etc. See photos
at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikelevin/ and especially this one
I've  posted at the top of this article http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikelevin/4932912129/ which shows the view
from a window of a local tech firm I visited on which you can clearly
see bullet holes and a oil lantern on the table because there are both
planned and unplanned electricity and water pressure outages. In fact,
the house of congress is where the keynote day of the conference was
given and some of the time there was no electricity. Our hosts
thoughtfully brought trash bags full of toilet paper and bottled water.
A very beautiful venue, nonetheless.

My encounters with locals
have been superb. It reminds me of how Prague was right after the
Velvet Revolution. People seem jubilant, even the military, who are all
over, are cordial, but if you think Shaq is imposing, think about
meeting many of these guys in less friendly circumstances. I am very
careful, though, because English isn't widely spoken. As I said, my
French is weak, so I am being patient and taking it in slowly. I've
learned in my travels that attitude accounts for much in an encounter
and I don't want to appear frantic, trying to get where I am going. I
just found reasonable exchange rates, and until yesterday had very
little local currency. Ever the budget traveler!

I checked in with the local US embassy using their online portal, which is very handy and allowed me to tell about why I am here, where I'm
staying, and emergency contact info. It gave confirmation of rec't too,
which was very comforting

I am staying
at a very over the top place called the Olympic Palace, which my hosts
most kindly acquired for me. It's a very far cry from my usual hostel
accoms. http://www.hotel-olympic-palace.com/ If you do any Google Earth
flying about, just fly to Brazzaville and you'll see the whole thing.
 

This WikiTravel guide http://wikitravel.org/en/Brazzaville is proving
quite accurate, so I am planning to visit as much, esp the river and
markets, cathedral and overlooks as possible.

I suffered some
stomach upset day before yesterday and took some meds that made me
sleep luxuriously 18 straight hours. Now all is well and I am equipped
for any other distress of that nature, including insomnia. FYI - it's
Diphenoxylate/Atrophine (the atrophy part the name Atrophine reminds
one of is accurate)

So, that's it to date in a nutshell. Stay tuned - much more to come...and let me hear from you!

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